Church planting boom unexpected

B.C. churches gather for annual convention May 2–3

"I can't believe Sonny [Mandagie, pictured] has planted 10 churches and still has all his hair!" said Mike Klassen, chair of the board of church extension.

“I can’t believe Sonny [Mandagie, pictured] has planted 10 churches and still has all his hair!” said Mike Klassen, chair of the board of church extension.

It appeared this year’s B.C. conference annual convention would be a fairly routine gathering. Significant changes in direction were made last year and routine follow-up work was expected. But no one could forecast the explosion of church planting within B.C. over the year. And no one could predict that the convention’s physical arrangements would need radical revision at the last minute.

Just a week before 228 delegates and guests were due to arrive at Central Heights Church, Abbotsford, the floor collapsed during a major Christian music event in the sanctuary. (See page 17.)  While Central Heights immersed itself in pastoral care and practical details of the aftermath, B.C. conference administrator Marilyn Hiebert scrambled for a new convention venue.

North Langley Community Church offered to help. That weekend, as soon as pastor Rob Thiessen made the needs known, 60 people signed up to provide delegates with hospitality, ushering, parking, food service, and room setup. Media techs jumped in to help. Catering volunteers started to organize. By convention day, May 2, delegates arrived to a warm welcome, as if all of these arrangements had been planned well in advance. Central Heights people helped, too. Pastor Lyndon Plett brought his group to the new site to lead the convention’s worship. Central Heights caterers worked with North Langley to provide the meals.

Conference minister Steve Berg stands in front of this year’s convention motto: ” Mission I’mPossible.”

Celebration

Friday night was a celebration. Church planting and church planter numbers in B.C. are exceeding expectations. Four churches were admitted into the conference – three of them church plants.

Church planting director Gord Fleming said 36 people are committed to starting new churches. Delegates heard stories of God at work in new projects, some of them multi-ethnic.

“Our view isn’t that church planting is led by denominations or someone in head office,” said Fleming, “but rather is something that God does through his Spirit. God does it. We have a lot of churches who want to reproduce themselves, and even new plants that want to reproduce themselves right away.” He said the effort takes a lot of prayer, support, and finances.

Rebecca and Andrew Stanley are planting a church in the Dunbar area of Vancouver, where housing costs are skyrocketing. Despite the challenge, “our love for the people is deepening,” says Rebecca.

Down to business

The business of the convention went through quickly Saturday morning. A two-stage method of handling business was adopted, where proposals are presented for discussion mid-year through regional councils of church leader (COCL) meetings. Pastors and moderators are asked to attend the COCLs and report back to their churches, in the hope most delegates will be familiar with the business by convention time. The COCL system allows more time for non-business items when the conference convenes. For the first time, all of the documentation was available on the B.C. conference website two weeks prior to the convention for study and printing.

“God’s people need to understand the language of Jesus’ Great Commission,” said keynote speaker Tim Geddert, of Mennonite Brethren Biblical Seminary in Fresno. He said the Greek imperative verb in Matthew 28 means to disciple – disciple as we go, as we teach, and as we baptize – with all nations as our target. “The goal is the transformation of all people groups in the world.” But it does not mean believers must all “go” far away to make disciples, he said. Geddert also urged delegates to remember we are only witnesses of Christ’s love. It is the Holy Spirit that convicts, he said.

Other business:

  • Conference minister Steve Berg reported the “Sacred Trust” course, required of all B.C. MB pastors, has been re-written and been offered four times to date. A fifth course will run in early summer, and possibly a sixth in the Peace River region.
  • Concern about partnering in ministry has revitalized collaboration with Mennonite Central Committee (MCC). Berg just returned from a Middle East tour with MCC leaders.
  • Columbia Bible College, a ministry of the B.C. MB and Mennonite conferences, graduated 139 students this year. The need for Christian credibility and developing ministers and disciples remains, said college president Ron Penner. “Bible college still matters.”
  • The search continues for a conference camping coordinator to oversee the province’s five camps.
  • B.C. conference delegates approved Central Heights’ request to transfer the ownership of its assets from the provincial conference to the church’s legal society, consistent with policy approved in 2007. Conference administrator Marilyn Hiebert said a church’s legal society status does not exclude a church from the B.C. group insurance plan.
  • Delegates approved a 2009 budget of 1.6 million dollars, up $100,000 from the previous year. However, many conference ministries must also raise their own funds to support their work.
  • A redesigned B.C. conference website is now online. See www.bcmb.org

B.C. has experienced a surge of new church planters.

Barrie McMaster

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